- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A major Hollywood studio wouldn’t have been able to pull off the spectacle taking place on the mile-long driveway at Llangollen Farm in Upperville, Va., Saturday morning as a parade of 26 polished antique road coaches and park drags approached, each pulled by magnificent horses transported from as far as Texas and Colorado for the occasion.

The spendidly turned out teams of thoroughbreds, European warmbloods, Lipizzaners, Andalusians and mixed breed hackney-Clydesdales vied for the attention of onlookers along with the passengers riding atop: gentlemen sporting gray toppers, ladies in picture hats and coachmen and grooms attired in livery to match the color of the coach or its upholstery.

The whips (as the drivers are called) smartly saluted friends along the way with a nod and slight tip o’ the lash as they passed in front of the great pillared mansion, part of a 1,100-acre estate purchased earlier this year for $22 million by businessman Donald P. Brennan and his wife Patricia (previous owners include Litton Industries founder Roy L. Ash, horse breeder Liz Whitney Tippett and publisher John Hay Whitney).

A spectacular sight indeed, but then again, so were the sounds of clip-clopping hooves, coach wheels turning at a leisured pace and coachmen tootling traditional “tatoos,” on long horns to signal a stop, start or turn.

“Nobody has ever gotten so many of the major coaches together before. We’re making history today,” said Jacqueline Ohrstrom, who shared chairmanship duties with George A. “Frolic” Weymouth in behalf of the event’s sponsor, the 16,000-volume National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Va., founded in 1954 by Mrs. Ohrstrom’s late father-in-law, investment banker George L. Ohrstrom Sr., and Alexander Mackay-Smith, longtime editor of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Mrs. Ohrstrom, ever the equestrienne in a frilly white blouse, driving gloves and long coaching apron, had just descended from her yellow and black park drag after having five hackney ponies in hand. Now it was time to celebrate with Veuve Cliquot served from a bar in the “boot.”

“Each coach is a masterpiece,” she said as participants and guests meandered to lunch in a big white tent on the estate’s grounds. “They’re a most civilized way of traveling, like going somewhere by boat,” added pal Pat Dey-Smith Altschul, a self-admitted coaching groupie and passenger on the five-mile ride to Llangollen from the Upperville Horse & Colt Show Grounds that day.

As hobbies go, coaching is hugely expensive, even for its rather rich aficionados. “It’s also a lot of work,” Mrs. Ohrstrom noted, mentioning the time and trouble involved in transporting the vehicles, grooms, horses, harnessing and hostlers from near and far. “We’re getting long in the tooth,” she said with a laugh. “We need new blood.”

“A lot of people take up coaching in their 40s or 50s after competing in more strenuous horse sports like polo, fox hunting and show jumping,” said Tucker Johnson, at 43, the youngest whip present. Hale and hearty himself, the Johnson & Johnson baby oil heir demurred when asked if muscle was the defining factor in team driving. “Finesse,” he declared, “is more important than strength.”

Mr. Weymouth, a longtime four-in-hand driving enthusiast single-handedly responsible for coaching’s renaissance in this country, was holding court at his table with seat mate Jacqueline Badger Mars, his du Pont cousin Phyllis Wyeth and other guests when asked how he managed to attract new adherents to a rarefied hobby on the verge of extinction.

“People would see me out driving and they’d say, ‘I’d like to do that, too,’ ” he said after treating a chuckling dowager to one of his trademark off-color jokes. “I told them, ‘Here, take a harness and try.’ ”

Truth be told, Mr. Weymouth did much more to encourage newcomers to the sport he adores.

“He’s given away at least a hundred coaches to get people started,” Robert Longstaff,” Mr. Weymouth’s personal coachman of 27 years, said as he prepared the master whip’s gleaming 1904 Brewster park drag, one of 30 in his collection, for its return journey on a perfect autumn day in hunt country.

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